Surprises

July 11 2013 garden 020Every walk through the garden brings surprises.

Munched parsley looks like its dying back.

Munched parsley looks like it’s dying back.

A mystery vine growing out of the fern garden.  Look like some kind of squash- a surprise volunteer.

A mystery vine growing out of the fern garden. Look like some kind of squash- a surprise volunteer.

Sometimes the surprises are good ones:  ripe figs to pick, a rose bloom opened, an unusual butterfly, a damaged shrub sending out new growth.  Sometimes the surprises are disappointing:  a sage plant turned brown from too much rain, a whole network of new vole holes to crush, a fig tree bending over double from the weight of its crop, a bed full of grass and weeds that need pulling- again.

A blue dragonfly resting on a faded Buddleia blossom.

A blue dragonfly resting on a faded Buddleia blossom.

A beautiful caterpillar has been munching the parsley.  He will soon join the butterflies living in the garden.

A beautiful caterpillar has been munching the parsley. He will soon join the butterflies living in the garden.

A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Lantana.

A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Lantana.

Gardeners learn to celebrate the happy surprises,  fix the disappointing ones, and move on.  Our world is in continual flux.

The Dharma, or path in Buddhism, is based in  realization of impermanence.  As we tend our gardens, we see the nature of impermanence and change every day.  An attitude of  non- attachment, as difficult as that tends to be, allows us to appreciate the beautiful while letting the disappoints go.  We eventually understand that the degree of suffering we experience from our disappointments is based on our attachment to what is lost, or damaged.

Sometimes transforming a disappointment into a joy comes with looking more closely.

Deer grazed all of the leaves from this jalapeno pepper plant, but left the peppers and the ocra growing behind it.

Deer grazed all of the leaves from this jalapeno pepper plant, but left the peppers and the okra growing behind it.

Sometimes, it only asks us to see a problem as an opportunity for growth.

Three massive oaks went down in a storm this June.

Three massive oaks went down in a storm this June.

This season has been a particularly hard one for many.  We have week upon week of record rainfall, floods, wind, and oppressive heat in some areas; drought, wildfires, hail, and late snowfall in others.  So many have lost everything in the wild weather patterns wracking our planet.

I remember those who sustain themselves and their families on what they grow.  I remember those who have lost the beauty of their gardens and the harvest of their fields and greenhouses in a single storm, and hope they have the heart and the means to clean it up, replant, and continue along their path.

butterfly bush

Butterfly bush, planted last spring and then lost in the fencing and assumed dead, survived and offers up its very first bloom.

As gardeners we continue to walk in beauty, to appreciate the gifts of our gardens, to fix what can be fixed, tend what must be tended, and share our love with those around us.   And, above all, we continue to believe that more beautiful and happy surprises await, on our next walk through our garden.

A fig tree, crushed by an oak and nearly destroyed in Hurricane Irene has recovered and is bearing figs again.

A fig tree, crushed by an oak and nearly destroyed in Hurricane Irene has recovered and is bearing a plentiful crop this season.

Coleus, a gift from a friend last summer, survived winter in the garage and is thriving again.

Coleus, a gift from a friend last summer, survived winter in the garage and is thriving again.

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Bountiful Basil

African Blue basil

African Blue Basil

Basil, an annual herb, is beautiful, delicious, and very easy to grow.  It grows very quickly and can give a huge harvest of leaves over the season.  It is a favorite herb for all nectar loving insects, and goldfinches love its seeds.  Deer and rabbits avoid it because of its strong scent and flavor.

Basil growing beside a tomato plant.

Basil growing beside a tomato plant.

A sport of

A sport of Dark Opal Basil, mostly green with highlights of purple.

Basil, like tomatoes, enjoys warmth and sunshine.  It grows extremely well in Zone 7b once the weather has settled in spring and the nights stay above about 50F.  Like tomatoes, it is often offered in big box garden centers weeks before it can successfully grow outside.  It is better to be patient and plant tomatoes, Basil, peppers, squash, and other warmth loving annuals after spring has given way to summer.

A banded Tussock moth caterpillar is exploring the basil.  He prefers the leaves of trees, and will leave the basil intact.

A banded Tussock moth caterpillar is exploring the basil. He prefers the leaves of trees, and will leave the basil intact.

This year I started my seeds in early April, as usual, and was disappointed to watch the seedlings languishing week after week while waiting for the weather to warm.  They just refused to grow until the nights stayed warm, and our long cold spring set them back.  Eventually I gave in and bought beautifully grown basil plants at the garden center, but they also just sat and sulked until the weather was consistently warm.  Most years I find volunteer basil plants from seeds dropped during the previous summer, but not this year.

Because the seeds are so small, several seedlings generally grow in the same pot.  It is a good idea to gently pull them apart and space them out when transplanting, because each seedling has the potential to grow quite large and develop a big root system over the summer.  If left crowded together, none of the plants will fully develop.

Sweet Basil is commonly found in garden centers.  With a medium size leaf, it is a good to harvest for cooking.

Sweet Basil is commonly found in garden centers. With a medium size leaf, it is a good to harvest for cooking.

Basil is a fast grower. It should be planted in rich soil and then kept evenly moist.  Prepare the soil with a good dose of Espoma Tomato Tone whether growing in a pot or out in the garden.  Topdress Basil with a layer of finished compost, or even with coffee grounds, which are rich in nitrogen.  Tomatoes and basil both appreciate a handful of Epson salts (magnesium sulfide) sprinkled around their drip line when planted, and again every 6 weeks or so through the season.

African Blue basil is planted in a mixed bed of herbs and vegetables.

African Blue Basil is planted in a mixed bed of herbs and vegetables.

Basil roots easily along its stems, but should be planted at the same level, or only slightly deeper than it was growing in its nursery pot.  Seedlings can be planted a little deeper at transplant to develop a stronger root system.   Plants of most varieties should be at least 6 inches apart.  A single plant can easily fill out a 10” pot, and will appreciate the space.

Basil needs at least 6-8 hours of direct sun each day to grow well.  If the soil dries out too much, the Basil will begin to droop.  When this happens, water well.  The plant will generally recover.  It is smart to grow basil in a large enough pot that it will survive a day in the hot summer sun without needing an afternoon watering.

Basil can be grown alone, as a companion to tomatoes and other vegetables, or as a companion to flowers.  It has a beneficial relationship with tomatoes and peppers.  If allowed to flower, the tiny flowers draw a variety of carnivorous insects, including tiny wasps which will eat insects feeding on other vegetable plants.  The insects visiting the basil will also stop over to help pollinate the tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplants, and other vegetable plants nearby.  Basil will grow well planted around the stem of a tomato plant, and will cover its “bare legs” to make the pot or bed more attractive.

Basil with heliotrope

Basil with heliotrope

Most people grow basil for its leaves, although the flowers are beautiful.  All parts of the plant are edible and fragrant.  Basil flowers are pretty enough to use as cut flowers in little arrangements with roses, Cosmos, Zinnias, and other summer flowers.  Many varieties of basil have gorgeous leaves which make great filler foliage in flower arrangements.  A gift of such an arrangement is a gift that keeps on giving.  Remind the recipient to keep the water fresh long enough for the basil to root, cut off the flowers once they fade, and then plant the stem.

Basil is a good filler in flower arrangements.  Its interesting flowers and foliage work well with other garden flowers.

Basil is a good filler in flower arrangements. Its interesting flowers and foliage work well with other garden flowers.

A Basil plant will of course channel most of its energy into the flowers, and then into seed production.   It is wise to remove the flower stalks frequently to keep the plant producing leaves.

A newly planted Purple Ruffles Basil grows beside a rose and white sage.  Basil grows well beside roses.

A newly planted Purple Ruffles Basil grows beside a rose and white sage. Basil grows well beside roses.

When harvesting basil, cut of an entire stem back to just above a leaf node.  New stems and leaves will grow from the main stem above that leaf.  If you remove all but the top few leaves from the stem you harvest, you can put it into a jar of water and expect roots to form within a week or so.  This new basil plant is ready to pot up and will mature in just a few weeks.  By harvesting frequently, and cutting to just above a pair of leaves, a plant will stay productive for months.

The flowers have faded and seeds are beginning to form on this Basil.  The goldfinches have already found it and visit to harvest the seeds.

The flowers have faded and seeds are beginning to form on this Basil. The goldfinches have already found it and visit to harvest the seeds.

By the end of summer most basil plants will have grown some flower stalks and set seed.  Goldfinches love basil seeds, and I often see them landing on the flowers stalks and eating the tiny seeds right out of their cases.  Before the birds get all of the seed, make sure to harvest some yourself to start plants next year.  Choose your favorite plants, and watch the flower stalk carefully after the flowers fade.  You’ll see the casings darken when the seeds are ripe.  You can sprinkle these on the ground where you want plants next year, or take the seeds inside and keep them in a labeled envelope in a cool place until next spring.

Basil with Lime Queen Zinnia and roses.

Basil with Lime Queen Zinnia and roses.  More views here.

 

Basil is a culinary herb used most frequently in cooking Italian dishes.  It is delicious fresh, dried or frozen.  Different cultivars have slightly different flavors.  There is Cinnamon Basil, Lemon Basil, Lime Basil, and a whole range of regular Basils from mild to very pungent.

My favorite way to prepare Basil is in pesto.  This requires at least 2 cups of basil leaves.  I tend to grow the large leaved varieties, like Genovese, because it offers enough leaves to make pesto frequently.

This little Genovese basil, started from seed, is finally taking off in early July.  It is planted here with thyme and parsley.

This little Genovese Basil, started from seed, is finally taking off in early July. It is planted here with thyme and parsley.

Pick the leaves off of the cut stems, wash them, pat dry, and pack into the bowl of a food processor along with 1 or more large cloves of garlic, Parmesan or Romano cheese (about ½ c. to 2 c. leaves), 1/4 c. of toasted pine nuts or walnuts, 1 tsp. of salt, and about ½ c. of extra virgin light olive oil.  Puree, streaming in more oil until the pesto reaches the consistency you prefer.  Good additions to this pesto are dried tomatoes, capers, or oil cured olives.  This is a very personal recipe, and the amounts should be adjusted to suit your taste and purpose.

African Blue basil grows into a large shrub which holds its own with Zinnias and Rosemary.

African Blue Basil grows into a large shrub which holds its own with Zinnias and Rosemary.

Pesto is wonderful spread on crostini, mixed with freshly cooked pasta; spread on pizza dough and topped with cheese; used as a dip; or spread on a sandwich. It is especially good spread on the bun of a veggie burger, mixed with a little mayo.  It is also a delicious garnish for soups.  Any extra can be stored in a small jar in the refrigerator topped with ¼ of olive oil to prevent the basil from browning.  It can also be spooned into cupcake papers, frozen, and then the frozen portions moved to a zip top bag for long term freezing.

A cutting garden of Basil thrives on the steps in full sun.

A cutting garden of Basil thrives on the steps in full sun.

A simpler way to freeze Basil is similar.  Prepare the leaves and puree with only salt and olive oil.  Transfer to a gallon size freezer bag, zip the bag nearly shut, and lay the bag flat on a counter.  Gently flatten the pureed Basil into a layer ½ ” thick or less, press the air out of the bag, seal, and freeze lying flat.  When you’re ready to use the basil, open the bag and break off the portion you need for cooking, returning the remainder to the freezer.

Large basil leaves are also excellent on sandwiches.  A good sandwich starts with a sliced baguette  spread with mayonnaise or cream cheese.  Cover one side of the bread with Basil leaves, and the other with slices of fresh mozzarella cheese.  Lay large slices of fresh tomato on the basil leaves, season with salt and pepper, and enjoy.

This basil grew from a seed dropped the summer before.

This Lettuce Leaf Basil grew from a seed dropped the summer before.

Basil leaves can be dried, crumbled, and stored in an air tight container for use all winter.  Leaves can be added to herbal tea mixtures, and you can make Basil vinegar.  There are complex vinegar recipes out there, but I simply buy store brand red wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar) at the grocery store, remove the top, add several branches of Basil, reseal the jar, and allow the basil to steep in the dark pantry for several weeks.  You can remove the Basil and replace with a fresh sprig for gift-giving, or simply remove the herb, label the bottle, and keep it in your pantry for use in salad dressing and cooking.  Basil vinegar makes a wonderful Greek style dressing mixed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and a little sugar.  I often add one or two peeled cloves of garlic to the bottle along with the basil.

There are many more ways to cook with Basil.  Citrus scented basil can be added to lemonade, hot or iced tea, steeped in fruit juice and then frozen into sorbet, or steeped in warm milk to flavor ice cream.  Please share your favorite uses for basil as a comment to this post.

Herbalists will tell you that Basil can be used medicinally to calm the nerves and settle the stomach.  Maybe that is why it is so popular as a culinary herb!  Many of the wisest physicians advise that that good food is the best medicine.  Basil is certainly good food for all of the senses.

Dark opal basil

Dark Opal Basil

Deer Resistant Plants Which Grow Well In Our Neighborhood- Revised and Improved

July 20 garden photos 008

This Lady Fern has grown on the bank for years, never bothered by the deer. It is deciduous, but returns each spring larger than the year before.

The plants in the following list are mostly ignored  by our herd of deer.  They are well suited to our Williamsburg, Virginia Zone 7B climate and our soil.  Some  gardening friends and I have been compiling this list over the last few years.

We have observed that plants which grow extremely well in some of our gardens, such as Camellias and Hydrangea macrophylla, also called mophead Hydrangea; get eaten in others.  Our mature Camellia shrubs are left alone, but I’ve had tremendous damage done to some, but not all, newly planted Camellias.   Even newly planted oakleaf Hydrangeas have been stripped of their leaves during the last few weeks.

In fact,  newly planted trees and shrubs are the most vulnerable because they are rich in the nitrogen based fertilizers growers lavish on them.  They taste salty and delicious to deer, like salted French fries for us.  Plants which have been in the garden a while tend to have less nitrogen in their leaves and so aren’t as tasty.  When considering how much extra fertilizer to spread around your shrubs and trees, if any, this is an important consideration.  Growing your garden on the lean side might offer additional protection from grazing.

Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower, is a favorite of nectar loving insects. A perennial, it is rarely touched by deer and grows more vigorous each year.

Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower, is a favorite of nectar loving insects. A perennial, it is rarely touched by deer and grows more vigorous each year.

Key to symbols:

a native plant in our area

# attracts birds with berries, fruit, nuts, or seeds

a nectar producing plant which attracts butterflies and other pollinating insects

+ a nectar producing plant which attracts hummingbirds

Flowering Trees and Shrubs

Bamboo provides cover for nesting birds, shelter from the weather, and a steady supply of insects to eat. Deer never touch it.

Bamboo provides cover for nesting birds, shelter from the weather, and a steady supply of insects to eat. Deer never touch it.

# * + Althea, Rose of Sharon Hibiscus syriacus

! #   Bayberry, or Wax Myrtle Myrica cerifera

! # * Beautyberry Bush Callicarpa americana

# *   Boxwood Buxus sempervirens

! # * + Butterfly Bush Buddleia (various species)

# * + Butterfly Tree or Glory Tree  Clerodendrum trichotomum

Camellia C. japonica and C. sasanqua

# * +Crepe Myrtle Lagerstroemia

! # * Dogwood Cornus florida

# * English Laurel Prunus laurocerasus

Mountain Laurel blooms in early May in our neighborhood.

Mountain Laurel blooms in early May in our neighborhood.

# Fig  Ficus carica

* Forsythia

! # * Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus

! * Hydrangea arborescens

Japanese Maple Acer palmatum

* +Lilac Syringa vulgaris

# * Mahonia Mahonia aquifolium

"Josee" re-blooming lilac, in its second flush of bloom in late June, is appreciated by all the nectar lovers in the garden.

“Josee” re-blooming Lilac, in its second flush of bloom in late June, is appreciated by all the nectar lovers in the garden.

! Mountain Laurel Kalmia latifolia (all parts of this plant are highly poisonous)

! # *Magnolia virginiana and other species

Fall blooming Camellia extends the months of bloom well into early winter. Deer don’t graze established shrubs.

# *Heavenly Bamboo Nandina domestica (all parts of this plant are highly poisonous)

! * Native Holly Ilex opaca

! # Oakleaf Hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia

# * Fire Thorn Pyracantha (various species)

! # * +Red Bud Cercis canadensis

# * +  Silk Tree or Mimosa Albizia julibrissin

# * St. John’s Wort Hypericum

! # Southern Wax Myrtle  Myrica cerifera

! # + Red Buckeye Aesculus pavia

! #* Adam’s Needle Yucca filamentosa and other species

Perennials and Bulbs

Alocosia ( various species)

! # * + Butterfly Weed Asclepias species

* Caladium

July 17 hibiscus 007

Rose Mallow, Lavender, Artemesia and Dusty Miller hold no attraction for hungry deer.

* + Canna Lily Canna

*  Centaurea ( various species)

! # * Coreopsis ( various species)

 * + Crocosmia ( various species) 

* Daffodil Narcissus ( various species)

! # * Daisy Asteraceae ( various species)

# * Dianthus ( various species)

! # * Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea

* Euphorbia ( various species)

# * Fall Anemones A. hupehensis

Fern   (click for detailed information)

Autumn Brilliance fern produces coppery colored new leaves throughout the season. Here, trying to protect a little Hosta.

Autumn Brilliance fern produces coppery colored new leaves throughout the season. Here, trying to protect a little Hosta.

# * + Gaillardia ( various species)

The Passion Fruit vine can grow up to 50' a year and produces edible fruit. Grown throughout warm climates, this perennial vine is beautiful and productive.

The Passionflower vine can grow up to 50′ a year and produces edible fruit. Grown throughout warm climates, this perennial vine is beautiful and productive.

* Geranium ( various species)

St. John's Wort

St. John’s Wort

* + Ginger Lily Hedychium ( various species)

! * Goatsbeard Aruncus dioicus

* Goldenrod Solidago rugosa

* Lenten Rose Hellebore ( various species) (note, this plant is highly poisonous)

* Dutch Hyacinth Hyacinthus orientalis

 * #  Iris (Bearded, Dutch, Louisiana, Siberian, etc.)

Re-blooming irises will bloom again in late summer, and then continue throwing out blooms through December. They need to grow in an area of full sun to continue blooming.

Re-blooming Irises will bloom again in late summer, and then continue throwing out blooms through December. They need to grow in an area of full sun to continue blooming.

# Ivy

! # * + Rose Mallow Hibiscus moscheutos

! * +Joe Pye Weed  Eutrochium ( various species)

# * Lambs Ears Stychys Byzantina

* + Mexican (Bush) Sage (Salvia leucantha) or Salvia Mexicana

* Muscari ( various species)

* Pelargonium ( various species)

* Peony Paeonia ( various species)

* + Red Hot Poker Kniphofia ( various species)

! # * Black Eyed Susans  Rudbeckia ( various species)

 

Butterflies enjoy Echinacea growing here with Gaillardia, Comfrey, Pentas, and other herbs.

Butterflies enjoy Echinacea growing here with Gaillardia, Comfrey, Pentas, and other herbs.

Gaillardia, gift from a friend's garden, growing here with Comfrey.

Gaillardia, gift from a friend’s garden, growing here with Comfrey.

Purple ruffles basil is one of he most beautiful.

Purple Ruffles Basil is one of he most beautiful.

Herbs

* Artemisia

# * Basil

* Comfrey

* Curry

# * Dill

* Fennel

* Germander

* + Lavender

* Mint

Pineapple sage blooming in late October is a favorite food source for butterflies still in the garden

Pineapple Sage blooming in late October is a favorite food source for butterflies still in the garden

Pineapple Mint with Lavender

Pineapple Mint with Lavender

!# *+ Monarda

* Oregano

# * Parsley

* + Pineapple Sage Salvia elegans

Rosemary

* Sage Salvia species

Annuals and Biennials

* Angelonia

Castor Bean (all parts of this plant are highly poisonous)

Ginger Lily, hardy in Zone 7

Ginger Lily, hardy in Zone 7

# *+Spider Flower Cleome hassleriana

Spiderflower, or Cleome, is beautiful in the garden and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

Spider Flower, or Cleome, is beautiful in the garden and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.  Seen here with Lamb’s Ears and Coneflowers

* Dusty Miller Centaurea cineraria

Star Jasmine, also known as Confederate Jasmine, is evergreen, fragrant, and a magnet for butterflies. Very hardy, it grows enthusiastically.

Star Jasmine, also known as Confederate Jasmine, is evergreen, fragrant, and a magnet for butterflies. Very hardy, it grows enthusiastically.

Yucca in bloom

Yucca filamentosa  in bloom in partial shade.

# * + Foxglove Digitalis purpurea

# * + Lantana or Shrub Verbena Lantana camara

* + Mandevilla sanderi

* Mexican Heather Cuphea hyssopifolia

* New Guinea Impatiens Impatiens hawkeri

Persian Shield Strobilanthes dyerianus

Persian Shield

Persian Shield

* + Pentas ( various species)

* Plectranthus ( various species)

* Purple Heart Tradescantia pallida

# * + Zinnia elegans

Vines

! * + Trumpet Creeper Campsis radicans

! * + Honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens

Purple Heart, Sage, and purple Pentas are safe from deer grazing.

Purple Heart, Sage, and purple Pentas are safe from deer grazing.

! # * + Passionflower Passiflora incarnata

*  Periwinkle Vinca major & V. minor

# * Star Jasmine Trachelospermum jasminoides

! # * + Virginia Creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Grasses

Bamboo (various species)

Miscanthus

Plants that will need extraordinary measures to protect in a forest garden include: 

Azaleas, Hostas, daylilies, lilies, roses, impatiens, some Sedums, Tomatoes, squashes, sweet potato vines, cucumbers, beans, and mophead Hydrangeas.

All photos by Woodland Gnome.

Virginia Creeper is growing up this dead Black Locust tree, delighting all hummingbirds and butterflies in the garden with its huge orange blossoms.

Virginia Creeper is growing up this dead Black Locust tree, delighting all hummingbirds and butterflies in the garden with its huge orange blossoms.

 

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